Can Bellator's Format Work Long-Term?
Bellator Fighting Championships entered into the fray of MMA with little fanfare here in the US but wrapped up their inaugural season convincingly.
Bellator's "championship" format pitted eight fighters against each other tournament style in their featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight divisions.
Fighters controlled their destiny beyond the initial pairs since there was no match making that put a fighter in purgatory because another fighter made more commercial sense.
The fighters were also evenly compensated with each tournament participant earning $10,000 to show and a $15,000 win bonus for the first round. In the second round all fighters were paid $25,000 with a matching win bonus.
The championship round paid a $40,000 base and a $60,000 win bonus, earning the champion's $175,000 in three months time.
Bellator broadcast on ESPN Deportes the sports media company's Spanish channel and was also broadcast on-line in English. In addition to the promotion's rebroadcast a number of fights became instant YouTube sensations because of their spectacular finishes.
These included an inverted triangle choke by Tony Imada, a spinning backfist KO by Yahir Reyes, and a huge KO by flying knee by Nick Pace. These instant "classics" helped generate buzz for the company and helped put Bellator on the map.
Fighters controlling their destiny, receiving equal and even pay for their efforts across weight classes are great things for MMA. The question is, what does Bellator do next?
The tournament format was an excellent way to attract top talent and showcase up and comers but it doesn't translate well with US MMA fans. Fans for the most part want to see their champions hold their titles until defeated, so starting over fresh next season won't work.
Going away from the tournament style all together will make them like every other MMA organization and possibly make Bellator a less attractive alternative to the UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction, and Dream.
My thought is that the tournaments should be pared down to four fighters in each division fighting once a month with the winner or the mini-tournament becoming the number one contender and fighting the champion. However this becomes a little unfair to both fighters involved.
The champion forgoes the purses he could be making while waiting for a challenger and possibly developing "cage rust" from lack of competition. The challenger, on the other hand, has to fight through two other opponents and suffer the wear and tear the champion does not.
The solution to the purse issue is to have a championship defense bonus if the champion successfully defends their belt. Increasing the time between the contender's last fight and his title fight to six or eight weeks instead of four solves the wear and tear problem.
Bellator's owner Bjorn Rebney stated recently on ESPN's MMA Live that Bellator is working on some big sponsorship and broadcasting deals that will make Bellator even stronger. If the promotion can find a way to be broadcast consistently on ESPN or ESPN2 they might become the most mainstream company in MMA.